REVIEW: The Goldfinch

★★ | Zach Hester • @hestzach

There’s a difference between a movie and a film. In case you don’t quite understand what I mean by that, let me explain it this way: there’s a difference between entertainment and art. John Crowley’s The Goldfinch, a faithful adaptation of Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel is the latter of both of the things I mentioned, or at least it wants to be. 

The film follows Theo Decker, portrayed by Ansel Elgort at age 21 and Oakes Fegley at age 13, whose mother is killed when a bomb goes off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the aftermath of the bomb, Theo takes a painting, a Dutch one by Carel Fabritius called The Goldfinch, and uses it as an anchor to the tragedy and he falls into a world of drug addiction and art forgery. 

If anyone has seen the age old Family Guy clip where Peter Griffin states that The Godfather “insists upon itself”, I would describe The Goldfinch in a similar way. The film was intended to be an Oscar vehicle for many in the talented cast and crew, but sadly the film isn’t able to retain the excellence it believes it has for many parts of the movie. 

The Goldfinch is a fine film, let’s start with that. There’s a lot to like. The performances from Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort are exceptional. I can’t speak highly enough of either of them, especially Elgort, who delivers the most powerful performance in the movie. Both actors shine the most when they’re onscreen with Nicole Kidman, who does well in the small part she’s given.

What propels Elgort to a great performance is Theo’s desperation to hang on to the painting, which can be seen as the last line to hold onto his mother’s death and the event that forever changed him. The event, along with advice from his mentor Hobart (Jeffrey Wright), who tells him as a child, “you never know what’s going to decide your future.” Despite the moment being a terrible tragedy, it’s what shaped Theo into who he was, for better or worse.

The cinematography by Academy Award winner Roger Deakins is the biggest plus for this movie. The Goldfinch looks gorgeous in every single shot, especially the third act in Amsterdam. Deakins has a way of making you feel like you’re really inside the world of the movie. He did it with Blade Runner 2049 and he achieved that once more here.

Now, let’s move on to the bad stuff: pretty much everything else. The story itself is not bad at all, but the way it’s executed is very poor. The editing and pacing never feel strong enough to hold the attention of moviegoers for its entire two-hour and twenty-nine minute runtime. This lack of excitement for the majority of the film culminates in an absolute mess of a third act. The final third of the movie tries to become a thriller, but fails in spectacular form. It’s almost like there was no idea on how to finish the film. 

Despite all of these lackluster traits, I still found myself wondering how the whole thing will end. I’m going to give the book a chance. Let’s hope it’s paced better than this movie. 

Perhaps it’s because Donna Tartt’s words are too difficult to adapt for the big screen or because the pacing failed to make the film compelling. Either way, The Goldfinch fails to drive its point home in the way it desires too. I still don’t believe it’s anywhere near as bad as critics claim. There are plenty of good things to love about this movie, but when you’re expecting a five-star film, it’s disappointing to only find a three-star one.